What is a “near-death experience”?

First, a near-death experience (NDE) is not a near miss by a truck as you cross the street. As in the case of Don Piper, it’s getting hit full on by the truck and being pronounced dead. Research today considers those who have “coded” with no brain waves or heart function to have died, and who were later resuscitated. The survivor then describes seeing people, places, and beings that would be impossible for a dead person to know, unless there is some consciousness after this life. We do not consider pre-death visions or dreams, or other mystic experiences to fall in the category of NDEs.

Do NDEs prove we’re all going to heaven regardless of religion or even unbelief in such things?

All NDEs are “interpretations” of an experience that are beyond our dimensional reality, and many project their particular experience as normative. Most recorded NDEs are positive which makes some assert that “all people go to heaven.” However, research shows that as many as 23% of NDEs are “hellish.” It is estimated that this is under-reported, as many are both embarrassed that they went to “hell” and/or are traumatized by it in such a way that they cannot talk of it further. If some NDErs are experiencing a type of suffering in the next life, it is difficult to maintain that everyone goes to heaven.

Don’t you contradict yourself when you say these NDE people are dead, but it’s not final death because they come back? Which is it?

No one knows for sure. It is clinical death when people have these experiences—the heart has stopped beating, the brain waves have ceased—and yet one of the 12 commonalities of NDEs is that there was a “border” or “boundary” they knew they could not cross and still come back to this life.

Aren’t NDE witnesses making a lot of money off their “story?” Can we really believe them?

Don’t believe any one story by itself. We should take each with a measure of healthy skepticism. Some could be in it for the money. However, when you have thousands of stories across the globe reporting common elements, we know most of them aren’t doing it for any money. This website focuses mostly on people who had no profit motive—doctors, airline pilot, CEOs, college professors—who didn’t need the money and had professional credibility to lose.

How do you choose what evidence to emphasize? Isn’t there some confirmation bias represented here?

All research referenced came not from our prodding, but out of the scientific curiosity of researchers themselves, many of whom were skeptics looking to disprove what they thought to be easily explainable scientifically. Our approach to evidence is similar to researchers’ methods: Don’t look at any one story full of interpretive color and focus on reported facts or similarities. Near-death experiencers (NDErs) are struggling to put into words things for which they have no adequate vocabulary. But, if 500 NDErs say they traveled through a tunnel of some kind, or 92% accurately described details of their resuscitation, we have the basis for data collection.

Are NDEs relatively new, or have they been occurring throughout history?

One ancient documented account around 50-60 A.D. comes from the New Testament letters recorded by Luke, a doctor, and the apostle Paul.

“They stoned Paul and dragged him outside the city, thinking he was dead. But after the disciples had gathered around him, he got up and went back into the city” (Acts 14:19-20).

Stoning in that day was always a death sentence. When we compare this story with Paul’s later account described in letter he wrote, we have a compelling NDE.

“I know a man in Christ who 14 years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know—God knows. And I know that this man…was caught up to paradise and heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell.” (2 Corinthians 12)

Interestingly, NDErs often say they had knowledge that they weren’t permitted to take back. Lazarus (dead for 3 days), the girl Jesus raised to life, the boy Paul raised to life, and the boy the prophet Elijah raised as recounted in the Hebrew Old Testament…all these could be candidates, but we don’t have their story after coming back.

Is there peer-reviewed literature for the science of NDEs?
  1. is a peer-reviewed scholarly journal known as the International Association of Near-Death Studies.
  2. Kenneth Ring did a peer-reviewed study of blind people having had an NDE.
  3. About 900 scholarly articles have been written in journals like the American Medical Association, Psychiatry, and The Lancet.
Isn’t it possible most of these NDE reports derive from overactive imaginations, undetectable brain activity, or the effects of drugs in someone’s system?

Over the years, many alternate hypotheses have been proposed and studied to explain NDEs as other than an actual experience of life after death. Since many researchers and others have written whole chapters or entire books dealing with these explanations in depth (listed below), we will mention the ones dealt with by Dr. Pim van Lommel.

Dr. van Lommel discusses each of these possible explanations for some or all of the NDE experience: oxygen deficiency (the fighter-pilot syndrome); carbon dioxide overload; chemical reactions in the brain; psychedelics (DMT, LSD, Psilocybin, and Mescaline); electrical activity of the brain (epileptic seizures and electrode brain stimulation); fear of death; depersonalization; dissociation; fantasy and imagination; deceit; memory of birth; hallucinations; dreams; and delusion brought on by medication.

After discussing the merits and problems of each of these alternate hypotheses, Dr. van Lommel states that “a near-death experience is a special state of consciousness that arises during an impending or actual period of physical, psychological, or emotional death. Demographic, psychological, and physiological circumstances fail to explain why people do or do not experience an NDE.”

Because NDEs are so varied and can feature so many different elements, including verifiable perception, a tunnel experience, the experience of an unearthly environment, the sense of unconditional love in the presence of the light, the encounter with deceased persons, or a life review or preview, a variety of explanations have been suggested for each of these elements. “Various physiological and psychological factors could all play a role, but none can fully explain the phenomenon,” Dr. van Lommel concludes. “The theories on NDE set out above fail to explain the experience of an enhanced consciousness, with lucid thoughts, emotions, memories from earliest childhood, visions of the future, and the possibility of perception from a position outside and above the body.”

These theories also fail to explain why experiences in an NDE seem much more vivid and real than experiences that occur during ordinary consciousness. The fact that an NDE is accompanied by accelerated thought and access to superior wisdom also cannot be explained. Current scientific research also fails to explain how these NDE elements can be experienced at a time when, in many people, the brain is not functioning normally. As Dr. van Lommel notes, “There appears to be an inverse relationship between the clarity of consciousness and the loss of brain function.”

The fact that people across all ages and cultures have reported essentially similar experiences cannot be explained, nor can the fact that while some people have an NDE, most people cannot recall their period of unconsciousness after a life-threatening crisis (if they don’t have an NDE). Interestingly, Dr. van Lommel found that induced experiences usually do not completely replicate an NDE, primarily because certain NDE elements are rarely if ever mentioned after drug use or brain stimulation, but also because they are never followed by a process of (life) change.

Does NDE explain how Jesus “rose” from the dead and disprove the basic theory behind Christians’ belief?

The Biblical narrative taken at face value records that Jesus did not resuscitate—He resurrected. All NDEs come back to their badly injured or sick earthly bodies to live a temporal life and die fully. Jesus died fully, but came alive in a new way, in a whole body to live eternally. It is recorded that he did not die a second time, but ascended to Heaven in bodily form.

Do people reunite with family and friends during an NDE?

Yes, the most common reunions are with deceased relatives and then close friends.

Will there be animals and nature in heaven?

Yes. Some NDErs report seeing animals they recognize (horses, dogs) and creatures they don’t. Children having NDEs tend to see pets more than adults.

Who is the “Man in White?” Aren’t there different religious views on the identity of this person?

Yes, every NDEr interprets what he/she experiences, so there are various views of the Being of Light people describe as God, Jesus, or the “Man in White.” This is a rich topic for discussion, but among the most striking commonalities of NDErs is this loving, beautiful, Being who knows them fully. They nearly always report never wanting to leave His presence and frequently they are shown a “life review”. Studies of non-western NDEs that would not have familiarity with Christian narratives report seeing this same Being with “a book of accounts.” What is striking is that people of all kinds of beliefs or none describe the God of the Bible even though they may arrive at a different personal interpretation of their description.

Do people have material bodies, angel bodies, or ghostly, non-physical bodies?

According to NDErs, they have bodies, but in a spiritual dimension. Reports indicate people can appear to each other as the other person most needs them to appear, but they can also appear with a brilliance of light and life and love that shines through them. They also report material sensations like touch, hearing, and smell.

Are people old in heaven, like my grandparents? Are there children like those who died young?

Age is a bit of a mystery in Heaven. Yes, people saw grandparents who looked just like they remember (only seemed vibrant like someone in their twenties). Others saw grandparents appearing much younger than when they died. Some saw siblings that died at birth, yet they appeared grown and mature, yet others saw babies and nurseries. The question leads to a more complicated topic of how time works in this new dimension. We are a “timeless” age, NDErs say. So, we can appear different ages to those who would remember us best that way, but there’s also an intuitive knowing the very heart or essence of a person that really doesn’t require bodily presentation. The Bible records that to God a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like a day. Modern theories on time in physics seem to point in this direction.

What happens during life reviews?

NDErs report unique Life Reviews, of course, because their lives are different, but they have similarities as well. Most Life Reviews are done in God’s presence, and the person re-experiences most, if not all of their life from a panoramic perspective. They not only see what happened, but feel how every action affected the people involved, and in some cases the ripple-effect out from that interaction. People clearly know their good or evil behaviors without being told, and commonly say, “I was judging myself,” or “I was my own worst judge.” Jesus said by your own words “will you be acquitted or condemned.” But people commonly feel unconditional, overwhelming love from God through it all, and they come back knowing that love is the point of life, and that God really cares about how we treat one another.

If the light is blinding as NDErs say, how can they see anything else to describe it?

It’s not really blinding. What they say is “brighter than the sun,” yet not harsh or hard to look at. Contrary to our experience with the sun, they say you don’t want to look at anything else because you’re so overwhelmed and awed by this light that is love and life all together. It’s not the light of a star, but the light of God.

Most of the reports seem to emphasize a place of pure love, acceptance, and joy across race and religious backgrounds. Does this contradict what religions say about God and judgement and punishment?

Not necessarily. First, we can’t definitively determine where someone will end up by their NDE. Near death is different from final death. NDErs tell us there are two places—“heaven” and “hell.” People who have had an NDE will eventually experience final death and no peer-reviewed research exists to tell us how that plays out, but certainly the possibility exists for a long stay in either of the two places. John, who had a vision of heaven (not an NDE) as recorded in the last book of the Bible (Revelation) reports that in the end there will be “a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb.” The Life Review is just confirmation that Jesus’ words were true that every thought, motive, and act will be revealed.

Why do many NDErs seem depressed or struggle to live after such amazing and wonderful experience?

Having seen and experienced such beauty and joy then being returned to broken bodies in an imperfect world, it’s no wonder they don’t enjoy or feel like they belong as they once did. The contrast of the two worlds is difficult to live with. Often knowing God has a purpose for them on earth keeps them focused and often passionate to tell others, yet the memory of how great Heaven is lives with them.

Do NDErs say people become like gods with perfect bodies, the special enhanced senses, and other “upgrades” in knowledge?

It would seem so from our limited perspective. Who wouldn’t like to have 50 senses, fly, and feel more alive than ever? However, this new body experience must be seen together with the rest of the NDErs’ testimony—most of whom recognize they are not a god at all, but see and feel a God of light and love beyond description, who possesses power, knowledge, and beauty far exceeding anything else they see in Heaven. They also report desiring to never leave His presence and multitudes of people seeking to worship Him.

Is there more to read about this topic?

Yes—plenty! See below and check out our Resources Page.

Imagine Heaven by John Burke

Flight to Heaven by Dale Black

90 Minutes in Heaven by Don Piper

To Heaven and Back by Dr. Mary C. Neal, M.D.

Evidence of the After Life: The Science of Near Death Experiences by Dr. Jeffrey Long

Life after Life by Dr. Raymond Moody

Consciousness Beyond Life: The Science of Near Death Experiences by Pim van Lommel

Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon’s Journey into the Afterlife by Eben Alexander, M.D.




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